A lack of rain has been prevalent throughout much of the western United States. Small farmers in many of these areas have faced an exceptionally tough growing season and the result is a lot of insecurity. In Minnesota, where nearly 80 percent of the state is dealing with extreme drought, farmers are lacking water for soil cultivation and livestock. The situation is made worse by the absence of a safety net, which has many Midwestern farmers at a loss for what the future holds. Will this challenge lead to an urgent but effective system overhaul that benefits small farmers and ranchers, or is this a sign of worse times ahead?


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Will Federal Aid Be Enough?

Earlier in August of 2021, $17.5 million in federal aid was sent to Minnesota. Some of the funding, meant to mitigate climate change impacts, will be used in support of the state’s farmers and ranchers.

However, per Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Peterson, this aid package still may not be enough, especially when small farmers may have a much harder time claiming their share. Aid programs have historically favored larger agriculture producers and legacy farmers who own rather than rent their land. According to Kathy Zeman, executive director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, much of the infrastructure set up to support the state’s farmers does suit the needs of smaller producers and can be difficult to navigate as a result. This leaves them with very limited resources and prospects during hard times.

Safety Nets That Make Sense For Small Farmers

The dry and challenging summer of 2021, which has exacerbated the effects of extreme floods and droughts of recent years, has prompted more local food producers to push for systematic change toward safety net and recovery systems that accommodate small farmers and independent agricultural-based businesses. Many of these professionals have come together to form the Local Food Producer Resilience Working Group to further such efforts.

Farmers market, St. Paul, Minnesota. Credit: Amy Mingo

Though it’s not clear what the future will hold for small farmers in Minnesota and other parts of the United States that have lost crop yields and agricultural stability, the need for more aid and resilience is not likely to decrease as the effects of climate change worsen.

Has a tough growing season had an impact on local farmers and agriculture in your area? Comment with your experience.

ABOUT Minnesota Department of Agriculture

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has served our state for more than 125 years. The work we do touches every Minnesota citizen every day.

Our mission is to enhance all Minnesotans’ quality of life by equitably ensuring the integrity of our food supply, the health of our environment, and the strength and resilience of our agricultural economy.

Our three general areas of responsibility include:

  • Protecting our food supply
  • Protecting our natural resources
  • Cultivating our agricultural economy

The Commissioner’s Office is responsible for the administration, budget, and policy direction of the MDA. The Commissioner serves as a spokesperson for agriculture throughout the state and within the state’s executive branch. The Commissioner’s Office coordinates the legislative, policy, legal, tribal, and communications activities of the department.

ABOUT Minnesota Farmers’Market Association

MFMA provides services, programs and leadership that support and promote farmers’ markets across Minnesota.

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